Black History Month: Prince Hall - A Man, Master, Brother and Friend
For Black History Month, Alvin shares a blog about abolitionist, Prince Hall.
‘Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, die sometimes before the world has richly gauged their brightness.’ (W.E.B Dubois). Dr. Charles Harris Wesley, renowned scholar, educator and Prince Hall Mason highlighted this statement in addressing the ‘Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of Texas and Jurisdiction’. Wesley’s core message delved into the life of Prince Hall, a Freemason and abolitionist of the free black community in Boston, Massachusetts.
According to Wesley, Prince Hall born circa 1735, was enslaved at the age of 11 to a Boston tanner, William Hall. He was freed in 1770 by manumission. It was believed that he was self-taught or received assistance in learning to read and write. Some sources speculate that he was born in Bridgetown, Barbados. In 1762, he became a member of a Congregational Church and got married in 1770. Hall worked as a caterer, peddler and leatherworker.
In the aid in attaining freedom of all black people, Hall advocated that all enslaved and freed black people enlist in the American colonial military. He proposed this idea to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety emphasising the Intolerable Acts with enslavement of black people. This proposal was denied. Nevertheless, England pronounced that freedom would be certain for black people who enlist in the British Army. Hall, among others served during the Revolutionary War. Many African-Americans however, lacked equal rights after the war and Hall was adamant in proposing legislation to change this.
Hall was attracted to the principles of liberty, equality and peace all of which are ideals held by the Freemasons. He and 14 freed black men petitioned Boston St. John’s Lodge; however, they were rejected. They then sought membership at the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1775 which was attached to the British forces stationed in Boston.
Thereafter, Hall and 15 men founded the African Lodge No.1 and he was elected as its first Grand Master. Their dispensation was limited at the time, only being able to bury their dead, hold processions on St. John’s Day and meet as a lodge. They were unable to confer any degrees on new members which meant that their organization would stagnate. Determined to gain rights as any regular lodge, they petitioned for a charter from the Grand Lodge of England, HRH Duke of Cumberland being its grand master. A charter was granted, and the African Lodge No. 1 was renamed African Lodge No. 459.
Author and historian James Sidbury stated that Hall, ‘built a fundamentally new African movement on a pre-existing institutional foundation.’ Prince Hall died in 1807 and the brethren instituted lodges in Philadelphia, Providence and Boston 1808. In 1827, the African Lodge was renamed Prince Hall Grand Lodge in commemoration of its founder and was styled the ‘father of African Freemasonry’.
Hall was a staunch community activist who lobbied for the rights of black people, abolition of slavery and the protection of free black people from crimes committed against them. He also embodied the back to Africa mentality and advocated for equal educational opportunities by operating a school for African-Americans in his home. He engaged in public debate using the Bible as a premise to denounce slavery.
Hall will be remembered for his resilience and progressive nature during turbulent times, when the black man was considered less than a human being. He was able to conquer obstacles laid by the colonial systems at that time. However, he believed in the rights of black people for education and self-improvement.
In 1797, Hall said: ‘Blessed be God, the Scene is changed! They no confess that God has no respect of persons and therefore receive them as friends and treat them as brothers.’ What then, could be so effective in delivering a message of Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God? His memory will live on among those who practice those precepts.
Alvin studies the LLB from St Lucia.